Former C-5 pilot tells the story of the "Cockpit Cat Fight" between two Female Navigators on their first FRED Mission

Former C-5 pilot tells the story of the “Cockpit Cat Fight” erupted between two Female Navigators on their first FRED Mission

By Dario Leone
Nov 1 2018
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“Sandy, the pretty one, and Penny, the interesting one, hunched over the scope on the navigators’ station behind the pilot. Their voices rose in volume and their tone turned argumentative and aggressive,” Jay Lacklen, former C-5 pilot

Jay Lacklen is a former C-5 pilot with 12,500 flying hours and the author of two books, Flying the Line: An Air Force Pilot’s Journey and Flying the Line: An Air Force Pilot’s Journey Volume Two: Military Airlift Command. He’s working on the last book of the trilogy.

Women Enter The Cockpit, 1982

A significant change in Air Force culture began for me in 1982 when women entered the cockpit, in this case, as C-5 navigators. It began curiously for me.

On an early mission in my C-5 career as a copilot, two female navigators showed up on the flight. I’m not sure why we had two, but it caused problem on the segment coming out of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia enroute to Frankfurt, Germany.

I know this was early in my C-5 experience because we still had the band weather radar that wasn’t worth a damn. It showed dim spokes on its fished-out screen as it scanned the sky ahead and showed returns as ghostly, imprecise shadows with no color gradations to show intensity.

At this time, navigators were losing their mission. Inertial Navigation Systems (INS) had severely encroached on the navigator’s space on the crew and would soon eliminate them as Flight Management Systems (FMS) provided almost all the information navigators had previously provided to the pilots.

But in the early 1980s, navigators controlled the weather radar and processed information from the triple (INS) setup. This trek across the northern portion of the Saudi peninsula, of all the hundred times I made it, had the worst weather I ever saw over this terrain. Thunderstorms were everywhere, some visible, some not when we flew into a cloud deck. This is when near-fisticuffs broke out between the two female navigators.

Sandy and Penny, both first lieutenants, seemed to be getting along well up to this point, but interpreting the K-band returns under pressure progressively led to a raging argument about which way we should turn the aircraft to avoid storm cells.

Sandy, the pretty one, and Penny, the interesting one, hunched over the scope on the navigators’ station behind the pilot. Their voices rose in volume and their tone turned argumentative and aggressive.

Former C-5 pilot tells the story of the "Cockpit Cat Fight" between two Female Navigators on their first FRED Mission
This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. C-5M Super Galaxy 60th Air Mobility Wing, 349th Air Mobility Wing, 22nd Airlift Squadron, 07-0042 – Travis AFB, CA

We pilots grew frustrated with the argument; we just needed someone to tell us which way to turn. We were flying blind as the argument behind us grew in intensity. Being of equal rank and crew qualification, neither seemed to be in charge. Finally, one of the women stalked to the back to check her forms see who held the earliest date-of-rank between them. That finally settled who would call the shots. I can’t remember which one it was, but we finally got information in a timely manner. Not an auspicious introduction to women in the cockpit as a cat fight erupts on my first mission with the fairer sex.

Another indicator that things had changed in the crew force happen as we checked into our rooms at the Rhein-Main hotel. Sandy and I shared the same bathroom that joined our two rooms, early shades of a unisex privy. True each of us could lock the other’s entry door, but doing so, noisily, announced that any of the various performances was about to begin. After a long flight, one of those would probably be one neither would want to share with the other, but would have to.

Unfortunately, while we were diligent in locking the door in such situations to avoid a potentially unfortunate face to face in the bathroom, were less diligent about unlocking the other’s door when we left. This could prove catastrophic in the middle of the night when you arose in dire need of relief only to find your bathroom door locked. You could pound on the door or get semi-dressed and go out into the hallway to the other’s room entry do and knock on that, dancing in the hallway trying to hold it (and don’t for your key!).

The true catastrophe arrived when the other person had locked your bathroom door and left their room. Now you were truly screwed and would have to use the public bathroom in the lobby, or find a housekeeper to enter their room and unlock your door.

And then, lascivious possibilities would arise in the mind. Such as, instead of locking the bathroom door, one of us would open it and step through instead, a rare possibility, I admit, but who knows what fantasy might lurk Sandy’s libido? Since she was married that limited the possibility even further and she did not. But I had a string of such “limited possibilities” actually happen to me previously with Air Force wives, so who knows?

The incredible story of the C-5 crew that performed three night air refuelings during a storm

And, besides, Penny was the more interesting of the two, so if I got to choose, I’d have selected her. But as with 99% of such fantasies, none of these happened except in my mind. Just as well.

Photo credit: Senior Airman Zachary Cacicia and Brett Snow / U.S. Air Force

Artwork courtesy of

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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